For the better part of the past three and half seasons, Arian Foster has been a one-man fantasy football wrecking crew for the Houston Texans. Over that 51-game span, he’s posted 4,521 rushing yards (on 4.5 yards per carry) and scored a ridiculous 44 rushing touchdowns. When you add in his 167 catches, 1,531 receiving yards and six additional scores through the air, you have the definition of a fantasy stud. Owners who were lucky enough to land him late in their 2009 rookie draft or as an undrafted free agent later that Summer likely have at least one dynasty championship to show for it.
While Foster is still just 26 years of age, there are some alarming signs of a deterioration in his skills, most notably his decreasing yards per carry average over the past three years. In fact, it took Foster a whopping 351 carries to get his 1,424 rushing yards last season. While he’s still firmly entrenched as the starter in Houston for the foreseeable future, we’ve all seen running backs decline rather quickly, so it’s wise to take a look at the roster of the Texans to see who may be next in line to be the lone star in Houston. With the Texans commitment to the run and success with previously unknown players like Foster and Domanick Davis (Williams), ignoring the depth chart behind Foster would be foolish.
With that in mind, we break down the backup running back battle in Houston to see just who may be worth a proactive pickup in the case Foster continues to decline over the next few seasons.
Tate is the obvious candidate to fill Foster’s shoes in the future. After all, he was supposed to be the next big thing in Houston back in 2010 before a leg injury ended his season and opened the door for Foster in the first place. In fact, he had nearly 1,000 yards in 2011 serving as Foster’s backup. In short, we know he has talent. With Foster having averaged over 370 touches the past couple of seasons, the Texans would love to see Tate fill his change of pace role again and be the heir apparent to the running back position.
The trouble with Tate is two-fold.
First, he’s struggled with injuries throughout his three-year career. Outside of his season-ending injury in 2010, Tate has also dealt with a variety of ailments, including foot and hamstring issues last season. When he played last year, it was obvious he was playing hurt.
The other problem facing Tate is the fact he’s a free agent after this season. It’s likely the Texans would lock him up with a long-term deal if he performs as well as he did in 2011, but that’s no given considering his injury history. If Tate doesn’t get himself on the field this season and perform well, Houston will likely let someone else overpay for his services. If that happens, there’s no telling where his future value lies.
Houston may not be counting on Tate beyond this season and that could be evident by their activity in the running back free agent market right after the draft. One of the backs the Texans rushed to sign was Graham, who went undrafted after a fairly productive career at the University of Pittsburgh.
Graham was a top prospect before tearing his ACL back in 2011. He played well coming back from that injury last season as he posted 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns on 222 carries for the Panthers. The trouble with Graham and his draft stock wasn’t just his previously torn ACL, but his slow clocked time as well. He posted a 4.8 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine and was already known for lacking top end speed. Many NFL teams obviously saw him as simply not being dynamic enough to be a difference maker and chose to pass.
He’ll have a legitimate chance to make the roster and is a player to monitor throughout training camp. It’s possible Foster has a relatively quick career if he’s used as much as he has been the past two years and Tate could easily walk after this season. While it’s quite possible the Texans would go to the draft for a replacement back, Graham could make that a non-issue if he can show Houston his pre-injury collegiate form and silence those who doubt he has the speed to be successsful at the NFL level.
Wood was another undrafted free agent the Texans signed very quickly. The former Notre Dame back was expected to be taken late in the draft, but his drop could be the Texans gain. In his Irish career, he produced just 2,447 yards and 16 touchdowns , but also had a mere450 carries. He caught 52 passes, proving he has some talent as a pass catcher as well. Wood isn’t decisive and that’s a must to be successful in the Houston offensive system, but he could learn that in time. If he can do just that, he certainly has some upside.
Johnson is short at only 5’6″, but weighs nearly 200 pounds. He’s a very interesting player to watch as he posted an impressive 757 yards and eight touchdowns on just 137 carries last year for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Any SEC running back who can post 5.5 yards per carry should be on your radar and Johnson did just that. It’s concerning he didn’t have big games against LSU or Alabama, but it’s also important to note he received a total of only ten carries in those games as Arkansas was trounced by a combined score of 72-13 in those two contests. Remember, it was Johnson and not Knile Davis who performed better in the Arkansas backfield last season. There’s an element of intrigue here and he should be monitored closely.
Karim was signed after he attended rookie camp for the Texans this Spring, but there’s really not much to see here. If he can beat out Johnson, Wood and Graham, it’s more of an indictment on them than it is praise for Karim’s skill set. This is his third NFL stop (after Jacksonville and Indianapolis) and if the rest of the division didn’t really fight to keep him, it’s hard to see the Texans doing the same. Perhaps the Titans will be interested next so he can have a complete AFC South jersey collection.
There’s no doubt Arian Foster is the lone star in Houston. However, keeping track of this depth chart could be a very important task for dynasty owners this Summer. Chances are at least one of these players is going to have some significant future value. Camp battles provide some of the most fun in dynasty leagues and Houston’s running back depth chart is one to keep an eye on all the way through the preseason.
Lucky for you, we’ll be here the whole way.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK
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